Come this summer, scores of Broward Sheriff’s deputies may be wearing body cameras while on duty, a number that will eventually reach 1500, the agency announced Tuesday.
While calling the technology “controversial,” Sheriff Scott Israel said the cameras — already worn by 50 deputies and that will eventually be used for road patrol, K-9, motorcycles and special operations — are “the right thing to do.
“We are a transparent agency,” Israel said. “We are not afraid of what goes on out in the street.”
Outfitting officers with cameras is a response by departments across the country after citizens’ cellphone recordings of police misconduct and at times, brutality, have gone viral.
A 2014 Broward Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs report listed 248 complaints about employee misconduct and 858 uses of force reports that were investigated, with 436 of those having injuries.
Those figures are higher than in 2013, when there were 149 complaints and 790 uses of force with 333 injuries investigated. The agency said the increase is because it is documenting even minor use of force incidents.
“We hope cameras will reduce the number of complaints,” said Colonel Jack Dale, of the department of professional standards. “I would anticipate, it’s just human nature, people knowing they are on video, I would expect that we see a reduction.”
The agency had already outfitted 50 road patrol deputies in North Lauderdale, Central Broward County, Pompano Beach and Deerfield Beach.
It expects that after a full year, cameras will have recorded 1 million videos. They will be retained for 90 days, based on state statute, and kept longer if they become evidence in a criminal investigation, the sheriff’s office said.
The cameras allow deputies to manually turn them on and off, which agency policy occasionally requires them to do, say when working with confidential informants or undercover officers, discussing investigative strategies with peers or while writing reports.
Deputies cannot edit video recorded by their cameras. To reassure the community that deputies won’t turn off the cameras at inconvenient times, Israel said, “Our deputies are honorable and the greatest deputies in the world. They protect us every day and do things right.
“Of those that don’t get it right, if it’s an honest mistake they’ll be counseled and spoken to,” Israel said. “And if it’s more than that, it will be dealt with in an affirmative action. But at the end of the day, there are policies and they will abide by the policies or deal with the consequences. We’ll get it right.”
Broward County‘s Chief Assistant Public Defender, Gordon Weekes, Jr., said he was concerned that deputies can operate the cameras themselves.
“An officer will never record his or her own misconduct,” Weekes said. “If the whole purpose of the cameras is to document the interactions of law enforcement with the public, I don’t know how allowing an officer to start the recording will accomplish that goal.”
Still, he said he was glad to see the technology is being used in the county, “so everyone can see what officers have to deal with and what the community experiences.
“Good officers will be applauded,” Weekes said. “Bad officers will be routed out. The public can see when law enforcement officers can be fair, unbiased and just. This could be so good for the community, if done right.”
Negotiations with Taser International, chosen after tests with several vendors, are continuing, officials said. Once those terms are complete, more deputies will be equipped with the recording systems.
Earlier this month, Broward County commissioners authorized the sheriff’s office to spend $538,000 to set up the camera technology framework.
Estimated operating costs could be $1,000 per deputy, per camera, per year, and includes expenses for the hardware, licensing, public records storage and management.
Those bills will be paid by the contract cities where the deputies patrol. If a district has 10 cameras, they’ll pay just for those, officials said.
Some police chiefs, like Miramar’s Dexter Williams, are hesitant about adding such costs and new duties to their cities’ budgets. Others like Fort Lauderdale police are researching options. Sunrise Police is further along and has developed a draft policy for its equipment testing phase.
Twenty-eight officers and sergeants in Hallandale Beach have worn cameras since December in the city’s program that has not yet cost $40,000, Police Chief Dwayne Flournoy said.
“I’ve been a proponent of it from the beginning and I think it’s a win-win,” Flournoy said.
The city’s Taser International system is also manually operated by officers.
“I guess we give them a great deal of authority,” Flournoy said. “I’m going to have to trust them that they will act in accordance with policy. And if they do not and we find that they are not acting within policy we will deal with them accordingly.”
He said it’s been going well so far.
“We had one incident where an officer approached someone and the car almost struck the officer but it gave us an opportunity to see what the officer was experiencing and the split second decisions they must make,” Flournoy said. “In this case, the officer had his weapon drawn but did not fire.”
He said in another situation, when a citizen complained about an officer being rude, “we reviewed the footage and we could exonerate our officer from the complaint that was being alleged. And it actually showed the citizen was the one that was agitating.”
He is also president of the Broward County Chiefs of Police Association and said some chiefs are concerned about the public records cost and maintenance, the expectation of privacy for citizens and the chilling effect it could have on an officer’s productivity.
“That they may not perform because they believe they are subject to constant review or are second guessing themselves,” Flournoy said. “I stress to my officers to do what they are trained to do. And as long as we are doing it legally, ethically and fairly, they have nothing to worry about.”